Video still of mind control performance.  Work in progress, projected to be completed May 2017.  Photo credit: Jimmy Day

Video still of mind control performance.  Work in progress, projected to be completed May 2017.  Photo credit: Jimmy Day

Prototyping rendered image of mind control performance.  Work in progress, projected to be completed May 2017.  Photo credit: Ani Liu

Prototyping rendered image of mind control performance.  Work in progress, projected to be completed May 2017.  Photo credit: Ani Liu

Introduction

The reproductive organs of the female body has long been a site of contention, where opposing ideologies in religion, politics, cultural differences often play out.  Perhaps of all the questions, the one of reproductive rights strikes a particularly sensitive nerve.  

At the writing of this project description, US President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order which cut off all U.S. funding to international NGOs whose work includes abortion services or advocacy.  Images of this executive order being signed by Donald Trump flanked by a cabinet of men have widely circulated, begging the question: why do these men feel they have a right to determine women’s reproductive choices?  

Through an art project of female empowerment, I seek to challenge this status quo by engineering a system by which I (a woman) can control something inherently and symbolical male: spermatozoa (sperm).   Through the use of a brain computer interface, I will capture electric signals generated by my thoughts, and translate those signals into a system I have engineered to control the movement of sperm along an XY axis through a phenomena known as galvanotaxis.  

 

Objectives

The intellectual investigation of this project is threefold:
[1.] to engineer a system that directs the movement of sperm generated from the signals of my brain activity,
[2.] to communicate the project aesthetically and expressively through art and design,
[3.] to pose critical cultural and philosophical questions such as:

  • What symbolic implications are there to a woman controlling sperm with her thoughts?

  • What are the thresholds between the body and mind in the current technological landscape?

  • What are the relationships between reproductive technology, gender, and politics?

  • What cultural shifts occur when the digital avatar/pixel being manipulated is actually a living organism or the potential for life itself?

This project involves an on body circuit, a brain computer interface,  and the motility of semen and controlled by thought.  As a work of art, this project reflects upon is the current political climate, in which a woman is losing rights related to procreation within her own body.

Motivation

The subjectivities of humans have long been influenced by scientific and technological breakthroughs.  Some scientific revolutions, such as Copernicus’ model, which shifted the center of the universe from the Earth to the Sun had religious implications.  Other breakthroughs, such as that of synthetic biology, raise philosophical and existential questions on what life is.  With every technology and scientific development, our plastic subjectivity goes through modifications and expansions.

As Sophia Roosth and Astrid Schrader eloquently  ask in their article “Feminist Theory Out of Science: Introduction”:

“What is the relationship of critical feminist theory to science studies?  How might we envision critical theory’s encounter with scientific accounts of the world?  Might we read scientific theories as already critical, the lived world as already doing science, busily generating theories of itself?.... How do scientific theories inform cultural critique?  How might scholars generate critical theories out of scientific ones?”

As an artist, I aim to make work that explore different technological embodiments of our time while reflecting on their societal implications.  Over the course of the last few years, I have been learning and investigating the tools of the biological sciences.  It is my aim to harness what I’ve learned to make a project that reflects on the entanglement between science, technology and society, especially as it relates to the body, gender, reproductive rights, and politics.

What are some counter narratives to this male dominated history of female discrimination?  In an age of technological advancement where we often speak of transcending our bodies to the point of posthumanism, why do are we still influenced by dubious theories of biological determinism?  In this project, I explore these themes through the symbolic act of controlling the cellular unit of male reproduction.

Mind Controlled Sperm

Overview: The System

I am creating a system by which a woman can control the movement of sperm with her mind.  This system utilizes several different technologies, which are described in further detail below.   A Brain Computer Interface (BCI) is used to read the electrical signals from my brain, and these signals are translated into commands for a microcontroller.  Through these commands, the microcontroller moderates the charges on a circuit on which semen is placed.   The directional motility of sperm is gained through a phenomena known as galvanotaxis, where cells migrate towards a specific charge in an electric field.  A microscope connected to a digital camera sends live images to a video screen to allow viewers to see the directional movement of the sperm.  Through this system, the motility of sperm on an XY coordinate system is gained through the thoughts of a woman.

Galvanotaxis and Electrophoresis in Sperm

Galvanotaxis, also known as electrotaxis, refers to a phenomena where cells migrate directionally towards electrodes in a direct current (DC) electric field (EF).  Galvanotaxis has been observed and documented in over 14 cell types, including mammalian granulocytes, bone cells, amphibian neural creast cells, and mouse sperm.  

Electrophoresis refers to the motion of dispersed particles in a fluid under an electric field.  Standard, mature human sperm carry a net negative charge, and electrophoresis can be used to move sperm towards the positive electrode under an electric field.  This technique has been used to separate out larger, more robust sperm for processes related to in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Using a combination of the phenomena of galvanotaxis and electrophoresis, I am directing the movement of sperm through the manipulation of electric fields. As mentioned above, the specifications I have come to through experimentation is 12V/cm.

Diagram to show electrophoretic effect on sperm.  Sperm will move towards the negatively charged cathode at 12V/ cm.

Diagram to show electrophoretic effect on sperm.  Sperm will move towards the negatively charged cathode at 12V/ cm.

Brain Computer Interface (BCI / EEG)

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a method of electrophysiological monitoring- the recording the electrical activity of the brain.  A brain-computer interface (BCI) takes this EEG electrical activity, analyzes them, and sends the signals to a computer which can be programed for various commands and outputs.

Within the last 15 years, commercially available BCIs have unlocked a proliferation of its usage for creative means of expression.  Reflecting on an era of continual human computer symbiosis, I am incorporating BCI technology into my project to further investigate the threshold and continuum between the mind and the body as augmented by a computer interface.

Optics / Microscope

The system for optics in this project is a USB enabled digital camera connected to a microscope.   The video footage gathered from the microscope will be collected onto a computer and live streamed through a  projector, to allow for an immersive experience of the performance.  Human spermatozoa are typically 50 micrometers in length, and require a microscope objective of at least 10X.    In my tests, a magnification of at least 40x is desired, for clarity and proper resolution for projection.

Image of the current setup in my lab.  A consumer grade toy microscope with a USB camera is streaming live footage of the contents on the slide onto the screen of my laptop.  Electrodes placed 5/12 cm apart is controlled by an Arduino UNO sending 5V, achieving the effect of sperm migration towards the cathode.  Final set up of tis project will include a large projection of the sperm movement.

Image of the current setup in my lab.  A consumer grade toy microscope with a USB camera is streaming live footage of the contents on the slide onto the screen of my laptop.  Electrodes placed 5/12 cm apart is controlled by an Arduino UNO sending 5V, achieving the effect of sperm migration towards the cathode.  Final set up of tis project will include a large projection of the sperm movement.

Inspiration

The image above is pinned to my laboratory bench and continues to inspire my work.  Barbara Kruger created this image for the Women’s March in 1989 to protest a wave of anti-abortion laws contesting the 1972 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.  Iconic, stark, and bold, this image speaks to the role of media in politics.  Utilizing the language of tabloids, being authoritative, direct and sensational, Kruger reclaims commercial aesthetics for the use of cultural critique.  In a similar vein, I aim to use the language and tools of science and technology to make a provocation on who owns the decision making rights on the female body.    

The image above is pinned to my laboratory bench and continues to inspire my work.  Barbara Kruger created this image for the Women’s March in 1989 to protest a wave of anti-abortion laws contesting the 1972 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.  Iconic, stark, and bold, this image speaks to the role of media in politics.  Utilizing the language of tabloids, being authoritative, direct and sensational, Kruger reclaims commercial aesthetics for the use of cultural critique.  In a similar vein, I aim to use the language and tools of science and technology to make a provocation on who owns the decision making rights on the female body.

 

 

This project is also highly inspired by the work of Ingmar H. Riedel-Kruse, Alice M. Chung, Burak Dura, Andrea L. Hamilton and Byung C. Lee and their work on biotic games.  Taking advantage of a variety of biological processes, they designed a collection of games in which live microorganisms such as paramecia are used as avatars for game play.

This project is also highly inspired by the work of Ingmar H. Riedel-Kruse, Alice M. Chung, Burak Dura, Andrea L. Hamilton and Byung C. Lee and their work on biotic games.  Taking advantage of a variety of biological processes, they designed a collection of games in which live microorganisms such as paramecia are used as avatars for game play.

In a satirical response to the official signing of the “Global Gag Rule”, which bans international groups associated with abortion rights from receiving US funding, French Feminist collective 52 (named in acknowledgement that women comprise 52 percent of France’s population) created an alternate history in which Hillary Clinton is shown surrounded by women as she signs a ban on male ejaculation for non-procreative purposes.

In a satirical response to the official signing of the “Global Gag Rule”, which bans international groups associated with abortion rights from receiving US funding, French Feminist collective 52 (named in acknowledgement that women comprise 52 percent of France’s population) created an alternate history in which Hillary Clinton is shown surrounded by women as she signs a ban on male ejaculation for non-procreative purposes.

Reading List:

Donna Haraway: Cyborg Manifesto

Michel Foucault: The Birth of Biopolitics

Michel Foucault:  Society Must be Defended

 

References

Allen, Greg M., Alex Mogilner, and Julie A. Theriot. "Electrophoresis of Cellular Membrane

Components Creates the Directional Cue Guiding Keratocyte Galvanotaxis." Current Biology 23, no. 7 (2013): 560-68. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.02.047.

Angie, Natalie. "Biologically Correct." In Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New

Millennium, 3-16. New York, NY: Washington Square Press, 2003.

Beydola, Tahir. "Chapter-29 Sperm Preparation and Selection Techniques." Medical and Surgical

Management of Male Infertility, 2014, 244-51. doi:10.5005/jp/books/11840_29.

Bullock, Penn. "Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women." New York Times.

October 8, 2016. Accessed January 5, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/us/donald-trump-tape-transcript.html?_r=0.

Buzsáki, G. 2006. Rhythms of the brain. n.p.: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2006.,

2006. MIT Barton Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2017).

Cira NJ, Chung AM, Denisin AK, Rensi S, Sanchez GN, Quake SR, et al. (2015) A Biotic Game

Design Project for Integrated Life Science and Engineering Education. PLoS Biol 13(3): e1002110. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002110

Fleming, Steven, and R. John Aitken. "Electrophoretic Sperm Separation." Sperm Chromatin, 2011,

423-29. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-6857-9_29.

Foucault, Michel, and Michel Senellart. The birth of biopolitics lectures at the college de France,

1978-1979. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Foucault, Michel, and François Ewald. Society must be defended: lectures at the Collége de France,

1975-76. London: Penguin, 2008.

Garrison, Laura. "Biopolitics: An Overview." The Anthropology of Biopolitics. January 21, 2013.

Accessed April 17, 2017. https://anthrobiopolitics.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/biopolitics-an-overview/.

Gao, R.-C., X.-D. Zhang, Y.-H. Sun, Y. Kamimura, A. Mogilner, P. N. Devreotes, and M. Zhao.

"Different Roles of Membrane Potentials in Electrotaxis and Chemotaxis of Dictyostelium Cells." Eukaryotic Cell 10, no. 9 (2011): 1251-256. doi:10.1128/ec.05066-11.

Ihde, Don. Bodies in technology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Kirschen, Marie. "Meet The French Feminists Behind A Viral Meme About A Male Ejaculation Ban."

BuzzFeed. January 26, 2017. Accessed February 03, 2017. https://www.buzzfeed.com/mariekirschen/this-response-to-the-photograph-of-trump-signing-a?utm_term=.viw501Gbo#.tuWon47bQ.

Koubeissi, Mohamad Z. "Niedermeyer’s Electroencephalography, Basic Principles, Clinical

Applications, and Related Fields, 6th ed." Archives of Neurology 68, no. 11 (2011): 1481. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.251.

Koran, Laura, and James Masters. "Trump reverses abortion policy for aid to NGOs." CNN. January

24, 2017. Accessed February 05, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/23/politics/trump-mexico-city-policy/.

Nijholt, Anton, and Chang S. Nam. "Arts and Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs)." Brain-Computer

Interfaces 2, no. 2-3 (2015): 57-59. doi:10.1080/2326263x.2015.1100514.

Park, Lisa. "Work." LISA PARK. Accessed February 05, 2017. http://www.thelisapark.com/#/eunoia/.

Riedel-Kruse, Ingmar H., Alice M. Chung, Burak Dura, Andrea L. Hamilton, and Byung C. Lee.

"Design, engineering and utility of biotic games." Lab Chip 11, no. 1 (September 23, 2010): 14-22. doi:10.1039/c0lc00399a.

Roosth, S., and A. Schrader. "Feminist Theory Out of Science: Introduction." Differences 23, no. 3

(2012): 1-8. doi:10.1215/10407391-1892880.

Rouge, Melissa. "Sperm Motility." Sperm Motility. January 20, 2003. Accessed February 05, 2017.

http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/reprod/semeneval/motility.html.

Rytis, Maskeliunas, Damasevicius Robertas, Martisius Ignas, and Vasiljevas Mindaugas. 2016.

"Consumer-grade EEG devices: are they usable for control tasks?." Peerj, Vol 4, P E1746 (2016) e1746. Directory of Open Access Journals, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2017).

Shih, Jerry J., Dean J. Krusienski, and Jonathan R. Wolpaw. "Brain-Computer Interfaces in

Medicine." Mayo Clinic Proceedings 87, no. 3 (March 2012): 268-79. Accessed January 26, 2017. doi:doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2011.12.008.

WITW STAFF. "Photo of Trump and male staffers signing anti-abortion measure inspires feminist

satire." New York Times. January 27, 2017. Accessed February 5, 2017. http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2017/01/27/photo-of-trump-and-male-staffers-signing-anti-abortion-measure-inspires-feminist-satire/.

X. Zhang, L. Jin, I. Takenaka, "Galvanotactic Response Of Mouse Epididymal Sperm: In Vitro

Effects Of Zinc And Diethyldithiocarbamate," Archives of Andrology 45, no. 2 (2000): , doi:10.1080/014850100418792.